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Wednesday, November 2, 2011

"Maharaja" Exhibit Overlooks Crucial Cultural Questions on India

Posted By on Wed, Nov 2, 2011 at 12:29 PM

Qamar Adamjee talks royal spending as Princess Asha Raje Gaekwad listens.
  • Qamar Adamjee talks royal spending as Princess Asha Raje Gaekwad listens.
Still less awkward than the royal wedding.
  • Still less awkward than the royal wedding.
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aam_maharaja_173.jpg
Jagat Singh II of Mewar and his Rani celebrating Teej, 1770
  • Jagat Singh II of Mewar and his Rani celebrating Teej, 1770


It's not that there aren't objects of great beauty or fascination in the Maharaja exhibit, and it's not that you won't learn anything if you're in the market for a (superficial) lesson in Indian history. But troubling is that this display of ostentation is treated without a hint of irony. Maharajas (from "mahant rajan," or "great king" in Sanskrit) are discussed in noncommittal terms of their duties as rulers -- your usual, "protect, serve and patronize the arts" -- no talk of how they did that. 

When considering an exhibition of 300 years of conspicuous consumption on a scale to make Russian gas oligarchs blush, the questions that come to mind are, "Where did all that money come from? What tactics did he use to levy taxes? How did he keep from getting his throat sliced open? Who made these jewels, and what were the conditions in the mines? What was the punishment for speaking out against the maharaja?" Basically, "At what cost, this extravagance?" Nothing.  

Qamar Adamjee talks royal spending as Princess Asha Raje Gaekwad listens.
  • Qamar Adamjee talks royal spending as Princess Asha Raje Gaekwad listens.
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Larissa Archer

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